Fantasy Baseball's Top Sleeper at Each Position
Fantasy Baseball drafts are right around the corner.
As Spring Training approaches, there are always players to keep an eye on. Some of them could end up being huge sleepers in fantasy.
We wish we could have every superstar on our team, but that just doesn't happen. We spend hours putting our first-choice team together and then see more than half of the players we want get selected before we have the chance to grab them.
Then we scramble to find a viable option who could have the same type of numbers as our first choice. That’s a difficult thing to do.
As Spring Training gets under way, watch for some sleepers to emerge. There will be plenty of young players who wind up with starting jobs and some of them could be worth the pick in your fantasy league.
Here’s a list of potential sleepers at each position that could fall right into your lap.
C- Rob Brantly (MIA)
Brantly, a top ten prospect in the Detroit Tigers organization, was traded to the Marlins last season in the Anibal Sanchez deal.
After arriving in Miami mid-August, he went on to post solid offensive numbers for a catcher. The 23-year-old hit .290/.372/.460 in 100 at-bats with an OPS of .832.
Then, in favor of Brantly, the Marlins traded John Buck to the Blue Jays.
Brantly has shown he can be a valuable catcher. You can’t look too far into his stats at the big league level, but he’s had good offensive numbers his entire career. That trend should continue as he settles into an everyday catching role.
He had a low strikeout rate (16 in 100 at-bats or 14.2 percent) and he has added value because he bats from the left side. That means he should be in the lineup most games.
If there’s something he needs work on, it’s his defense. Luckily, fantasy baseball doesn’t take defense into account.
His ability to get on base (.321 Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP)) will reward fantasy owners with a late round catching option that could work wonders. If you’re anything like me and wait until the end of the draft to select a catcher, Brantly could be the guy for you.
1B- Anthony Rizzo (CHC)
First base is a power position. For fantasy purposes, you look for home runs and RBI out of your first baseman.
Most power hitters are selected early. Where do you turn when you need a quality first baseman in the mid-rounds?
Anthony Rizzo has been high on my board since his call-up with San Diego in 2011. While he tore up the minor leagues that year, his major league production wasn’t very impressive with the Padres (.141 with 1 HR and 46 K).
He was traded to the Cubs in the offseason to re-unite with Theo Epstein, the GM who drafted him in Boston. After spending a few months with the Cubs Triple-A affiliate in Iowa where he again tore it up (.342 with 23 HR and 62 RBI), he was called up to the Cubs in late June.
Rizzo hit four home runs in his first ten games. His numbers would even out the rest of the season (.285/.342/.463 with an .805 OPS) but he was able to solidify himself in the Cubs lineup.
According to Michael Beller of SI.com, Rizzo’s .349 wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average, a stat that weighs everything you can do on offense) was better than that of Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Teixeira and Freddie Freeman, amongst others.
Just 23 years old, Rizzo is primed for a breakout season and can be a steal in the right scenario.
Starting the season on the major league roster will benefit Rizzo and give him the at-bats he needs to be a productive hitting first baseman for the Cubs.
2B- Dustin Ackley (SEA)
Dustin Ackley hasn’t found his groove yet, but 2013 is the year he'll put it all together.
Ackley, selected second overall in the 2009 draft, has shown signs of his potential. He needed surgery this offseason to repair bone spurs in his ankle and will come back stronger than ever.
His offensive numbers weren’t great last year, batting .226 with just 22 doubles and 12 homers. However, that was in large part because of the bone spurs.
Getting that taken care of, he has a huge upside. His struggles last year will make him fall in the draft and he could be a huge steal.
According to Ryan Divish of the Tacoma News Tribune, Ackley is already participating in full offseason workouts.
He will likely be the leadoff hitter for the Mariners and will score plenty of runs. Last year, he scored 85 times in a down year.
Ackley doesn’t have too much power but has shown he can get into a pitch and drive it out of the park. You’ll see more doubles out of him than you will home runs.
I think he’ll get back on track this year. He is a big piece to the future of the Mariners and has some power hitters behind him to potentially drive him in.
Don’t overlook Ackley.
3B- Todd Frazier (CIN)
Todd Frazier didn’t have much of a chance to solidify himself as a starting third baseman in his rookie year.
He received opportunities to fill in when Scott Rolen was hurt or needed a rest, but with Rolen no longer in the picture it’s time for Frazier to shine.
Frazier hit .273 with 19 home runs and 67 RBI in his rookie season. For fantasy purposes, his power will be his primary source of scoring.
He played 128 games last year, starting 66 at third base. He saw action in left field, right field and first base as well.
His late season slump slashed his average down from .295, but that shouldn’t deter you away from him. He has tremendous potential and could see the upside of 25 home runs this year.
He could also be a surprise in the stolen base category. Despite not having many chances to steal on the Reds last year, in the minor leagues he did swipe 31 bases in 2010 and 2011 combined.
He is only going to get better. His at-bats should increase and his production should increase as well.
At this point in his career, he’s in the back of the pack for fantasy third baseman, but his production will skyrocket in 2013. If he’s on the board later in your draft, don’t let him get away.
He’s poised for a breakout season.
SS- Alcides Escobar (KC)
Escobar is going to be a key piece of the Royals this upcoming season. His production has increased each year and should continue to do so.
He had a career best .293 average last season that included 42 extra-base hits, 68 runs scored and 35 stolen bases.
He’s right up there with the best fantasy producing shortstops in the league, but because he doesn’t have a well known name, he often flies under the radar.
He did strikeout 100 times last season, the most in his career, though he had a career high 605 at-bats.
His value will come from his speed and his ability to take the extra base. Look for his runs scored to increase as he should have quality production from the players around him (Hosmer, Butler, Moustakas).
With the type of shortstops out there, Escobar can wind up being the unsung hero to your team and is worth the pick as a sleeper this season.
DH- Victor Martinez (DET)
Victor Martinez was a big piece in the Detroit Tigers lineup in 2011. He tore his ACL before the 2012 season which propelled Detroit management to sign Prince Fielder.
Now, the Tigers lineup looks like it could have the most dangerous 3-4-5 combination in the majors.
Martinez, expected to hit fifth, will be the DH. In 2011, his power was down, hitting just 12 homers, but his .330 average was the best of his career.
He gets on base, hits for extra bases (40 doubles in 2011) and drives runners in. Batting behind Miguel Cabrera and Fielder, Martinez will see plenty of pitches to hit.
Hitting coach Lloyd McClendon told Tom Gage of The Detroit News,
Victor looks unbelievable. I am really, really impressed with what I've seen. He's in great shape, and he's swinging the bat extremely well. A lot of zip, a lot of pop, it doesn't look like he's lost anything.
He is capable of hitting for power and has a career .380 on-base percentage. He had 178 hits in his first year with Detroit.
Being a switch-hitter adds to his value as a fantasy player.
While it’s unrealistic at this point to say he’ll match those numbers, don’t be surprised if he has over 150 hits this season.
He’s come a long way since tearing his ACL and has a much longer way to go to fully be back to his level of play.
His fantasy stock has dipped, but don’t expect his production to dip too much. He should be the first DH drafted because he’ll have a better year than David Ortiz.
Outfield (1)- Colby Rasmus (TOR)
Rasmus has been quietly productive his entire career. Coming off a 23 home run season with 75 RBI and 75 runs scored, a duplicate of that would make fantasy owners happy.
The only problem is he strikes out too much. Aside from his rookie season in St. Louis, Rasmus has had more strike outs than hits.
While having steady power numbers, his production should improve with the talent that now surrounds him in the lineup. Rasmus is an end of the order hitter, probably sixth or seventh and should see his RBI opportunities increase.
He is a 20-30 home run hitter while having the speed to stretch base hits in the gap.
He is a fly-ball hitter, which could add to his RBI with the on-base potential of the players in front of him.
He’ll have his work cut out for him as he still has to prove he’s an everyday player. With the addition of Emilio Bonifacio and Rasmus’s struggles against left-handed pitching, Rasmus needs to work out his kinks and live up to his high expectations.
I think Rasmus is worth a look as he will provide extra power to your team and can come cheap in the late rounds.
Outfield (2)- Brett Gardner (NYY)
The Yankees don’t have too much outfield depth this year. Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera will battle for a roster spot in Spring Training, but it’s Gardner who is going to be the everyday player.
Playing in just 16 games last season, Gardner is 100 percent healthy going into the Spring.
He’s a steady source of speed which was evident when he stole over 45 bases in 2010 and 2011.
There are question marks about his spot in the order. Will he bat first or second, or will he bat eighth or ninth?
The difference in the lineup could alter his overall production, however Gardner will still be getting on base. He’s a slap hitter, not a power hitter, with a career .355 on-base percentage.
You tend to look for power from your outfield in fantasy baseball, but Gardner is a nice alternative that will provide you with hits, average and steals.
If you can’t get the 30+ home run guys like Kemp, Braun, Hamilton or Granderson, Gardner could offer you the most value.
He should score plenty of runs with the offense the Yankees have, and is a viable option for a third outfielder in any league.
Outfield (3)- Adam Eaton (AZ)
Adam Eaton will in all likelihood be the biggest sleeper of 2013. The 24-year-old will start the season in the outfield after the departure of Justin Upton.
He has limited big league experience and broke his hand at the end of last season, but he’ll be ready to go on Opening Day.
In Triple-A last year, Eaton hit .381 with 38 stolen bases. He has great potential and has been a consistent hitter at all levels of baseball. That shouldn’t change this year on the major league roster.
Upon his call up in September, he hit .259 with two homers and 19 runs scored. With a full season of major league experience, the sky’s the limit for Eaton.
We don't know what to expect, but a pleasant surprise is in order with Eaton.
He’s never been a big power hitter, but can get on base and split the gaps. He could provide around 30 stolen bases and while penciled into the leadoff spot, he will have many scoring chances.
The Diamondbacks have paved the way to move forward with Eaton as their center fielder. He has the potential to be in the NL Rookie of the Year conversation.
SP- Hisashi Iwakuma (SEA)
Hisashi Iwakuma. Many might not know this name, but get familiar with it. He can be both a reliever and a starter on your fantasy team.
He is penciled into the number two starting job behind Felix Hernandez and he's coming off a 9-5 record in his first season in America.
Iwakuma has five different pitches that include three different types of fastballs. He relied a lot on his sinker and split-finger and is primarily a ground ball pitcher, though he did strikeout 101 batters.
He turned in nine quality starts in 16 total and won seven of his last nine decisions to end last season.
Playing in Safeco Field, Iwakuma will have the benefit of a pitcher-friendly stadium.
It took him a little while to get accustomed to the major leagues, but a full year of offseason workouts should work to his advantage.
He’s skipping the World Baseball Classic to focus on Spring Training and getting ready for the regular season.
He reminds me a lot of Chien-Ming Wang in his early Yankee years. There’s plenty of room for improvement from Iwakuma and with the offensive upgrades the Mariners have gotten, he should get more run support.
Iwakuma is a guy who is going to be out there every fifth day giving his best effort. He’s definitely worth the draft pick.
RP- Ryan Madson (LAA)
In 2011, Ryan Madson established himself as a premiere closer with 32 saves and a 1.15 WHIP as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.
After inking an $8.5 million deal with the Cincinnati Reds, he missed the entire 2012 campaign because of a torn ligament in his elbow.
Madson recently signed with the Los Angeles Angels to become their closer. While he is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, he is on pace to be ready for 2013, but may miss the first week of the season.
He has a proven track record and will be out to show he can still be a quality closer. When healthy, he should have plenty of chances to save games on this Angels team.
He manned the Phillies bullpen during their reign of NL East championships and in 2011 held left handed hitters to an impressive .198 batting average.
If he can return to form and look anything like he did while with Philadelphia, he’ll help any fantasy team.
Madson will be a value pick, though we’ll have to wait to see how he pitches in Spring Training.
His draft stock has plummeted, but he is a low-risk, high-reward option for owners in the late rounds. Joe Nathan was able to come back from Tommy John and give the Texas Rangers a quality closer last year. Madson should do the same this year for the Angels.
He’ll be hungry to get the team wins and should help your team get some wins too.